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King Henry III

(r.1216-1272)

Born at Winchester on the 1 Oct 1207, Henry was the eldest son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême. 

King John died in October 1216 while England was in the midst of the First Barons War. Nine year old Henry was hastily crowned king on the 28 October at Gloucester Abbey.

Henry was made a ward of the pope and William Marshal, often regarded as England’s greatest knight, was appointed Regent. Now in his seventies, Marshal had loyally served all the Plantagenet rulers of England since Henry II. Henry’s mother Isabella returned to her home country in 1217 and married Hugh de Lusignan.

Prince Louis of France had arrived in May 1216 at the invitation of the barons. At the time of Henry’s coronation Louis and the rebel barons held many castles across England. English lands in France were limited to Gascony and Poitou the rest having been lost by King John. 

In 1217 Henry’s forces commanded by William Marshal defeated the rebels at the Battle of Lincoln while Hubert de Burgh led his fleet to victory at Sandwich. Prince Louis negotiated terms and left England in September 1217. 

After the death of William Marshal in 1219 a new council was elected which Hubert de Burgh came to dominate. 

Henry’s minority government had the onerous task of restoring order and forcing the barons to submit to Henry’s rule. 

As a demonstration of royal authority on the 17 May 1220 Henry had a second coronation. This time the service was held at Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On the continent King Louis VIII of France in alliance with Hugh de Lusignan launched a successful invasion of Poitou. 

In 1225 with Gascony under threat, the council granted funds to retake the province, but only on the condition that Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forests were re-issued by Henry. 

Henry still ruled through his ministers but in 1232 Hubert de Burgh was ousted from the council by his old political adversary Peter des Roches who had recently returned from crusade. 

Des Roches greatly abused his power to take revenge on his opponents and by 1234 a civil war had broken out. Henry finally agreed to dismiss des Roches and in doing so took personal charge of his kingdom.

King Henry 


On the 14 January 1236 the 28 year old Henry married Eleanor of Provence at Canterbury Cathedral. Eleanor, who was only 12 years old, was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey six days later. Their son, the future Edward I, was born in June 1239. Four other children would survive to adulthood.

Eleanor’s family greatly benefited from Henry’s royal patronage. Several of her Savoyard relations were given positions of authority and they dominated the English court for most of the 1240’s.

Henry was a weak ruler, lacking in good judgement and with no flair for political or military leadership. He was renowned for his piety, even in his own day. 

He adopted Edward the Confessor as his patron saint and spent vast sums of money rebuilding Westminster Abbey. 

Henry also revelled in great displays of kingly magnificence, dressing himself in fine clothes and spending lavishly on precious jewels, paintings and royal palaces. 

Henry had four half-brothers from his mother’s second marriage to Hugh de Lusignan. 

Henry invited them to England and bestowed on them large estates and positions of power. Henry’s Lusignan half-brothers had a reputation for violence. The barons resented their presence at court and believed they had an undue influence on the king.

Parliament


King Henry had put his own Great Seal to the Magna Carta of 1225 which committed him to ruling within the terms of the charter. 

The levying of scutage, a tax paid in lieu of military service, would henceforth be taken as “in the time of King Henry our grandfather”. 

The king had to summon his nobles and ask for an extra tax to be granted and it was during Henry’s reign that the term “parliament” was first used.

Royal revenues during Henry’s reign barely covered domestic expenditure. As a consequence parliament was largely unwilling to finance costly foreign military expeditions.

In January 1242 they refused to grant funds to recapture Poitou, but Henry went on campaign anyway without their support. 

The Poitou expedition was a disaster and King Henry suffered a humiliating defeat before returning to England in September 1243 with considerable debts. 

Without the consent of parliament Henry made an agreement with the pope that his son Edmund would be the next king of Sicily and that he would pay for the invasion force.

Parliament refused to levy an extra tax and finance what was clearly a reckless venture. The new pope threatened Henry with excommunication for not paying his debts. 

Reform 


There were serious doubts over Henry’s competence to rule and he was seen as no longer governing within the terms of Magna Carta. 

Henry had issued an edict in November 1256 which effectively placed his Lusignan half-brothers above the law by giving them immunity from royal justice. 

The royal court had split into factions and Henry’s Sicilian policy had created an enormous debt. 

Furthermore, a poor harvest had led to widespread famine and the Welsh were in revolt. A group of barons led by Simon de Montfort joined together to force reform on the king.

In 1258 the barons forced Henry to accept a new form of government. They instituted the Provisions of Oxford, a wide ranging programme of reforms that encompassed all levels of government. Parliament would meet three times a year and an elected Council of Fifteen would be responsible for governing the country, advising the king and appointing chief ministers. Abuses by local officials would be investigated. 

These reforms continued with the Provisions of Westminster in 1259. The council also negotiated a peace with France. Henry agreed to give up all claims to the lands lost by his father King John and he paid homage to King Louis IX as Duke of Aquitaine. The leading Lusignans were expelled from England.

Civil War


In 1261 Henry regained power after exploiting the tensions between the leading barons. However the baron’s reforms had widespread support and they now saw military action as their only option. 

Simon de Montfort soundly defeated Henry and Prince Edward at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264 and a new government was established. 

De Montfort’s Hilary parliament of 1265 included for the first time representatives from the cities and boroughs and has links with today’s House of Commons. 

However de Montfort had alienated many of his supporters and he was heavily criticised for promoting his own interests. Prince Edward and the disaffected barons rose up in arms against de Montfort and he and many of his allies were killed at the Battle of Evesham on 4 August 1265. 

After the battle King Henry enacted his retribution on de Montfort’s supporters. 

All of their lands were to be forfeit and distributed to those who had shown loyalty to the crown. Henry’s treatment of the Disinherited encouraged further rebellion until 1266 when the church negotiated a peace settlement, the Dictum of Kenilworth, and Henry agreed to let the rebels buy back their lands. Parliament was now an established part of government. 

Henry spent his final years in poor health and he died on the 16 November 1272. 

He was buried in Westminster Abbey near to the tomb of Edward the Confessor.